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Adventures in the Villa

2022-10-25 Mountain View, Missouri

We traveled back to Mountain Grove to visit the Missouri State Fruit Experimentation Station…

They were ready to welcome us!

This place is what it says it is: they do research into many types of fruits…

So they showed us the fruit of their vines…

We had a lovely tasting of their wines…

After the tasting we toured the winery…

Not exactly a large facility. But, after all, they are just doing research…

Next stop: The wine store… We exercised great restraint…

Next door is a small brewery.

We all had lunch there. It is sort of a hobby brewery: family run, only open on occasion. Today they served us tacos. Not really Mexican food; just Missouri food (beef, cheese, tomatoes) served in a tortilla… Taco sauce served on the side…

We returned to the campground. We enjoyed Happy Hours together…

And then we had a little entertainment…

This was a local group that had spent some time in Hollywood recording their music, mostly for movie soundtracks… But they live here now, playing these types of gigs…

On a side note:

This electric organ is in the clubhouse. These hymn books are properly placed. One might think they hold church services here now and again; however, when I picked up one of the books it was almost stuck to the rack, and it clearly had never been used, or even opened before… Apparently, they’re just props.

So we returned to the Villa. An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-24 Mountain View, Missouri

After the two-day cold snap we had about a week ago the foliage colors have definitely changed…

After a quiet morning we gathered our chairs to watch Mule Jumping…

Meet the mule: Pedro…

Here he jumps…

He is a champion in Missouri – he has jumped 60″!

He only made it to 56″ today. He really likes the roar of the crowd, and he is very proud of himself when he makes a high jump…

After all the excitement of the jumping mule we had a rest in the Villa. Tonight is dinner at the Viadel Winery, the same place we had lunch yesterday…

The winery is normally closed on Monday, so we had the place to ourselves…

The meal consisted of Bruschetta salad, Lasagna, Pizza (see our comments from yesterday…), and garlic-buttered breadsticks, which are made from their pizza dough that I so enjoyed yesterday…

The vineyards are still looking good…

We managed to get one last picture of the caravan group…

We returned to the Villa. An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-23 Mountain View, Missouri

Mostly free day today… We drove 4 miles down the road and had lunch at Viandel Vineyards…

They opened at 11:00 am and we were there… Its a rather rustic place…

Of course, I couldn’t help but notice the absolutely useless and non-compliant disabled access parking and ramp…

All of their wine is made from grapes grown on the property…

We had a nice table outside. It was a little cool, but nice nevertheless…

We tasted six of their wines – two dry (one red, one white) four sweet – Grape, Blueberry, Blackberry, Apple. The sweet wines were made from Muscato grapes, infused with the fruit flavors, but no added sugar. They tasted like I would like to pour them over ice and add some 7-Up on a hot day… The dry wines were from grapes unknown to me. We ordered a very nice fresh bruschetta to enjoy with the tasting. Then we ordered glasses of the red wine and two of their small artisanal wood-fired pizzas. It was great lunch. We will come back here with the entire caravan tomorrow night for dinner…

We returned to the Villa. We are seeing some mild autumnal colors all around us…

An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-22 Mountain View, Missouri

Fun day today! We drove a few miles south to the town of West Plains, and stopped into the Presbyterian Church…

We weren’t here for a church service; the church offers its facilities to community groups for various things…

Our time here started with lunch. We (there are 57 of us…) were fed Thanksgiving Dinner by a local Amish family. There is a Amish community of about 20 family is West Plains and the surrounding area. This family of eight (including six kids) prepared and served Turkey, stuffing, beans and corn, potatoes and gravy, salad, fresh rolls, and pie for dessert…

It was lovely…

We then heard from a local historian about the Ozarks culture and history in this area… This bearded man in the next photo was the originator of this caravan, and his family has been here since the early 1800s; they left Tennessee when it got to be too crowded: They had seen a human footprint down by the creek that was not part of the family… He is a retired Judge…

We migrated to the church sanctuary, where the local high school choir was assembling…

This group is all seniors, and some of the best singers in the 100 person choir…

The best part? They sang all showtunes! South Pacific!, My Fair Lady! Who could ask for anything more?

They were great and it was lots of fun to hear them. I hope these experiences give these kids a leg up as they leave school and grow into productive citizens…

As we left the church we enjoyed the historic downtown, although most of the businesses have all moved into strip centers along the highway that bypasses the town…

Our evening was free… Happy Hours and sunset ensued…

An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-21 Traveling from Mountain Grove, MO, to Mountain View, Missouri

Travel days all start the same. People hitching up, catered breakfast in the clubhouse, then the Drivers Meeting…

And then we hit the road…

Within 30 minutes we had all arrived at the campground on the outskirts of Mountain View, MO.

Happy Hours and Pizza Dinner topped off the evening, and a little Bourbon tasting might have happened…

As the sun set we returned to the Villa…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-20 Mountain Grove, Missouri

Quiet Morning…

Then we drove about 20 miles south. Over dirt and gravel roads, and fording raging rivers…

We finally found the Topaz Mill, built 1895.

Buried deep in the hills of Douglas County is a nearly nonexistent town called Topaz. Serene scenery and a gushing spring say you’ve arrived, after traveling a crunchy gravel road. Perhaps some of those same stones carried locals who, in the past, brought their wheat to be ground at the town’s mill. 

Nowadays, things are much different.  Instead of finding dry goods or flour, getting a haircut or posting a letter, as local folks once did, visitors find something else. They discover a picture of the past. Because the town’s former general store, barbershop, and mill have been preserved and show a way of life once common – but now long gone – in the Ozarks.  

Today, Joe Bob O’Neal and his wife, Betsy, are the caretakers of Topaz and live on the property. They eagerly share their unique destination with the world, giving tours and time to anyone who wants to come learn.

The area’s first mill was built around 1840, but Joe Bob shares that its modern history actually goes back much deeper, and ties to Henry Schoolcraft.

“In 1818, 1819, Henry Schoolcraft and Levi Pettibone were the first travelers to document their travels through this part of the country,” shares Joe Bobl. “On Nov. 20, 1818, according to their diaries … he came across a spring that was mammoth size and it flowed out of a rock ledge and ran about 200 yards and ran into the river, and doubled the size of the river. Everybody says that was Topaz spring.”

The first mill at Topaz was thought to have been built around 1840. No one knows for sure what happened to that one, but it was only the first phase of the community, which evolved greatly in the late 19th century. In the early 1890s, the post office was commissioned, and in 1895, the current mill was built.

Unlocking its door today unlocks a whole new world – but really, one that’s old.

“The equipment that’s in this mill, with which to make flour, came from Great Western Manufacturing in Leavenworth, Kansas,” says Joe Bob. “I have the receipt here for when this equipment was bought, dated May 2, 1903. I’ve had people tell me this is the most valuable piece in the whole building because they’ve never seen anything like this.”

In addition to the original mill equipment, a black and white barber chair sits and waits for customers who will never come. On the wall, faded lettering still advertises haircuts and tonics for a quarter and a dime apiece. Outside, the spring roars.

Joe Bob shares the relevance and role of the mill and town years ago, which history shows was likely a hub in the area. It was likely quite populated in the past. However, time was not kind to Topaz, and by the 1940s, the town had nearly disappeared. One of the last remnants at that time was the store. Part of that was in response to changing times, ease of travel and less need for the community’s amenities.

In the 1950s, Joe Bob’s family purchased the mill. His grandparents and aunt and uncle were dairy farmers near Republic, and were in need of a good water source during a time of drought. They discovered the property, and moved to Douglas County. An interesting fact: Joe Bob’s grandfather actually worked in mills, similar to the one at Topaz, when he was a young adult.

“I didn’t realize this until just recently, but he would’ve know everything about this mill because he would have used it,” says Joe Bob.

Maybe it was the personal connection to milling. But whatever the reason, the O’Neals opted to keep the old store and mill around. Eventually, restoration happened and over the years, visitors began stopping by.

“My uncle, if he was around here, and somebody came looking for the place, he’d stop what he was doing and give them a tour just like I do,” says Joe Bob.

Growing up, Joe Bob spent summers at Topaz. In 2013, he and Betsy moved there from Kansas City.

Today, the O’Neals welcome visitors to Topaz, and give tours so others can learn from the store and mill.

The fact that the mill equipment is all intact is amazing…

The mill pond is fed by a 10 million gallon per day spring… Water runs down these concrete sluices (built in 1992 to replace the rotting wooden sluices), and feeds the mills turbine. Yep – a turbine. No silly water wheel here!

Where the water fills the shaft and drives the turbine…

This is just like the turbine that drives the mill. Joe Bob saws it been here at least since the late 1940s, and he doesn’t know why…

Joe Bob gave us the history of the place. One of the reasons the town died, and the reason towns like this died all over the country, was that the homestead act that gave settlers the rights to settle here allotted each farmer 40 acres. That could support a family in the mid-1800s. But as farming methods and equipment improved, some farmers bought their neighbors’ parcels and many farmers sold out and left. So instead of having ten families per 400 acres you now have maybe two or three… Huge population drop…

Inside, Joe Bob explained what each piece of equipment was and how it works.

As built, the mill could process corn meal and refined flour. All Joe Bob does today is make cornmeal about once or twice per month… The refined flour making process is extremely complex, so he doesn’t bother…

We returned via a different route – no rivers to ford…

That evening we were treated to musicians playing bluegrass music…

We returned to the Villa; an enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-19 Mountain Grove, MO

Today we visit a unique business: Seeds…

From the website:

“At Baker Creek, our mission is to provide the seeds of a sustainable food supply for everyone and keep heirloom varieties alive for future generations. We believe that farmers, gardeners and communities have the right to save their own seed, and in so doing preserve seed diversity and food security in an age of corporate agriculture and patented, hybridized or genetically modified seeds. All the seeds we sell can be saved, shared and traded, and we encourage people to save their own seed.

“Charitable giving is a foundation of our business. Working with non-profit organizations, a significant portion of our annual profits goes toward providing food, emergency aid, sustainable development and education to people in the U.S. and abroad. We also provide free seeds to hundreds of community and educational groups each year, because we believe that everyone should have access to nutrient-dense, delicious food, season after season.”

Founder Jere Gettle started Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. in 1998 as a hobby; it has since grown into North America’s largest heirloom seed company.

Baker Creek offers one of the largest selections of 19th century heirloom seeds from Europe and Asia, and our catalogs now feature about 1,000 stunning heirloom varieties.

The headquarters is in Mansfield, Missouri, and it includes trial gardens, greenhouses, a pioneer village and a seed store, all on the homestead where Jere started the business as a teenager. We also operate a seed store in Petaluma, Ca.

It’s about a half hour drive to Baker Creek…

We have arrived…

There are all these old buildings, some utilitarian, some used for their festivals…

They offer Vegan lunches in the restaurant…

This shows you how cold it was (and is today) here…

The seed store…

We learned the history and story of Baker Seed…

Since this entire enterprise is all about plants we all enjoyed a vegan lunch together – it was quite good… So good that I didn’t take any pictures…

But we did take a group photo to sum up our caravan…

After the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company we drove a short distance to the other side of Mansfield, to another old time location…

This is the farm house that Laura and Almanzo built, at the farm they called “Rocky Ridge”…

The house was built over a period of about 30 years, so it is quite a hodge-podge of rooms and features…

But there is another house on Rocky Ridge… We walked along a lovely path for about 3/4 mile to the Rock House…

Their daughter, Rose, a very successful writer and journalist, bought a kit house from the Sears catalog and had it built here, so that her parents could live in a modern house… Laura and Almanzo lived here about seven years; they preferred the old farmhouse, so they moved back… In later years, Rose bought them a house in town so they would be closer to services in their old age. They didn’t like that either… They moved back to the farm house…

We walked back to the Museum and enjoyed looking through the memorabilia… Pa’s fiddle is here, some of Mary’s Braille books are here… (If you don’t know the “Little House” books, none of this makes sense… Sorry…)

After this day of exhibits we returned to the Villa. Happy hours ensued, followed by an Ice Cream Social.

An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-18 Traveling from Branson, MO, to Mountain Grove, MO,

Today we leave Branson after a week here… We saw 6 shows, and we were served 7 meals, all but one of which was Green Beans or Corn, Chicken, Potatoes, and Beef or Pork… As I have already reported, some were better than others… Branson is a tiny town (12,000 population) that has 9,000,000 visitors/tourists every year…

Travel days all start the same. People hitching up, catered breakfast in the clubhouse, then the Drivers’ Meeting…

And then we hit the road… This is considered the high plains of the Ozarks…

And the roads were even good!

The campground in Mountain Grove is a little rustic, but it had all the necessities… Having good power is important here! Temperatures hit 23 degrees in the morning…

The evening meal was pulled BBQ chicken sandwiches. No green beans or mashed potatoes in sight!

We returned to the Villa and turned on the furnace. An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-17 Branson, Missouri

This morning we visited The College of the Ozarks, just south of Branson. It has nick-named itself as Hard Work U; its students work on campus for their entire time here in various jobs and trades, from hospitality (cooks and waiters), agriculture, administration and marketing, etc. As a result, there is no cost to the students for tuition and housing. The college obviously also has generous donors. Most students are lower income and from the Ozarks region; they also have students from many other parts of the country and from other countries.

We gathered in the admissions and visitors center; we were given an overview of the college by a student, a senior.

After the information session we headed off to explore the campus. This is the Williams Memorial Chapel, built in 1956 by students. Try as I might, I could not find out who the architect was…

The interiors are quite beautiful…

After the chapel we visited the mill and store, and the greenhouses…

Of course, no visit would be complete with a visit to the tractor museum. Most of these tractors were originally in use on campus, and they were restored by students…

After our walking around we had lunch in the college restaurant, prepared by students, from ingredients grown by students, and served by student-waiters: The menu? Beef brisket, chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans! Except that this time it was fresh, farm-to-table, not out of a can! The table setting was even perfect: the silverware was properly placed, not rolled up in a paper napkin… The meal was as good as a mass-produced banquet meal can be expected to be. The servers were top notch and very professional…

We returned to the Villa to warm up… It is COLD!

This evening we attended Dolly Parton’s Stampede. I expected a tryical country music show. Boy! Was I wrong!

Walking towards the entrance we were given a hint:

The “theater” looks more like a rodeo arena. (Luckily for me, this is NOT a rodeo… As much as I don’t like killing animals for sport, I don’t like torturing them for fun, either…)

Of course, this being a dinner show, we were served a dinner of soup, corn on the cob, potatoes. and chicken…

But first the MC rode in…

More horse and riders appeared… They rode around in fancy circles…

And then the bison came into the arena…

And then the covered wagons and the “settlers”…

Finally the chicken arrived on our plates. A whole chicken!

This next part was fun but it didn’t photograph well. It was the pig races!

Of course there was the obligatory tribute to veterans and patriotic song…
A good show, but something I never would have selected. That’s the fun of caravans – I do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do…

We returned to the VIlla.

An enjoyable time was had by all…

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